Picture the scene: you’re relaxing on a tropical beach, listening to the waves lap at the shore and the parrots squawking in the jungle. Then, as you sit up and look around, you see a giant red fish with hairy legs and fishnet stockings running towards you; some dangerous looking fungi is attempting to make you as high as a kite; and the parrot you thought you heard is actually some pink flying hippo-horse thing with an endless supply of blood gushing out its nose. Welcome to Papuwa Island.
Set four years after the original series – Papuwa of the South Seas – a young boy named Kotarou washes up on the beach of the second Papuwa Island suffering from a bad case of amnesia. However, the island’s residents already know the young lad, as he possesses an incredible power that previously destroyed their original home. So, in order to keep him from remembering who he is, thus re-awakening his power, ex-soldier Liquid changes the name on Kotarou’s underwear to read Rotarou (apparently this is enough to convince someone of their name). Now with a new name, the blonde-haired child lives a carefree life with his new friends, Papuwa and Chappy, and their long-suffering ‘maid’ Liquid.
The first thing to note is that although it’s a sequel, it isn’t essential to have seen the original anime. The show provides enough flashbacks to fill in the majority of gaps, and if the odd reference still seems alien then don’t worry, as Papuwa is the kind of series where just glossing over it won’t affect the narrative one iota.
Papuwa’s strength, without a doubt, lies in its madcap comedy, random violence and frankly mind-boggling weirdness. Granted, the series relies on the same repartee throughout its twenty-six episode run, but somehow I never tire of the gushing jets of blood, trippy mushroom spores, or Umako’s increasingly terrifying displays of affection. Though you can spot some of the jokes hurtling towards you from a mile off, this anime still has the ability to surprise. Even when one installment adopts a particular running gag, it’ll quash your expectation of seeing a huge, hairy man-woman crush some unsuspecting men by flinging a hermaphroditic snail in your face instead.
Sadly, this anime falters when it attempts to include an actual plotline. In fairness, the show requires a certain amount to allow for all the players to arrive on the island – it wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny without Harlem tormenting Liquid, or if the emo Arashiyama wasn’t being ignored – however, the anime loses a lot of its sparkle when it flips over to its narrative. In particular, the fun aspect loses out in a big way during the series’ final four episodes when the bulk of the plot finally kicks in. The manic laughter every few minutes at Ito and Tanno’s antics or Oshoudani’s incessant drumming gets tossed aside in favour of a limp and rather cheesy storyline that fails to really grab the attention. Yes there are still some moments where Papuwa’s comedy stylings make a brief re-appearance, but these feel tacked on in an almost desperate bid to remain funny.
I’ve found over my years of watching anime that most of the ‘sillier’ series never tend to have outstanding animation, and while Papuwa’s artwork is reasonably good, it doesn’t set the world alight. Demonstrating smooth movement, and exaggerated gesturing, the show remains pleasant to look at while truly getting into the spirit of its wacky humour.
The series’ character designs vary more in terms of quality. Most of the humans, such as Liquid, Harlem and Arashiyama, feel like stock visuals from nineties shounen anime like Dragonball Z. At the other end of the cross-dressing spectrum, the appearance of the island’s more… “eccentric” personalities triumphs. Ito’s feminine colourings mixed with a repulsive saliva-coated tongue and manic eyes reflect her kind, yet ultimately terrifying nature. Whereas the likes of Umako’s ultra-masculine appearance would make even Toriko wince, but mixing this with her feminine clothing and ample bosom, makes for utter hilarity all nicely wrapped up in one giant, hairy shell.
Anyone who knows me is well aware of my intense hatred of dubs, but despite this, I concede that Papuwa’s English translation actually holds its own very well. Don’t get me wrong, most of it sounds like a stilted Pokémon episode, but the outrageously camp vocals of Ito and Tanno mixed with a few dialogue alterations make for highly entertaining viewing. The American adaptation takes a more flamboyant approach to an already wacky series and not only gets more creative with the insults – choosing the likes of “Ass-tard”, “Ass Clown”, and “Stinkin’ A-hole” instead of the more straightforward ‘scum’ that the sub opts for – but also tends to be slightly more foul-mouthed and has a bit of fun with the opening message. Instead of repeating the standard ‘don’t sit too close to the screen’ line, Ito happily gives us a whole host of helpful tips such as not to ‘piss off any Germans’, or ‘get your arm caught in the meat grinder’.
Oh where to start! Papuwa boasts a reasonably large, and incredibly bizarre host of characters that range from perverted and masochistic mercenaries or gambling, alcoholic militia, to numerous gender-bending animals and useless squid-men. Though the majority of the series’ players have but one defining trait and stick to that throughout, this isn’t actually detrimental to the show and actually enhances its humorous content; indeed, Papuwa wouldn’t work anywhere near as well if its cast weren’t so one-dimensional.
The least interesting characters are actually the series’ central protagonists: Papuwa and Rotarou. While the former remains fairly enigmatic through the entire show, the latter simply falls into the category of annoying, spoiled brat. Though Rotarou manages to redeem himself with the occasional moment of kindness and caring it’s not quite enough to suppress my desire to poke him in the eyes with a rusty spoon. Though Papuwa’s mysterious nature and unflappable calmness means that he allows many of the wackier personalities to shine, as main pillars of the series both he and Rotarou fail to carve their way into my memory as much as the likes of Ito, Tanno and Umako who steal the spotlight every time they appear on screen.
If looking for silly, fun anime then you can’t really do much better than Papuwa. While not a work of animated genius, it’s highly entertaining and anyone who enjoyed series like Jungle wa Itsumo Halé Nochi Guu, will most likely love this. If not, then sprinkle some of Komoro’s spores on yourself and I guarantee you’ll soon think it’s an absolute masterpiece!
When the young Kotaro (errr...Rotaro) washes up on Papuwa island with a case of amnesia, he has no idea that his life is about to take a turn for the bizarre. With housemates such as the man-maid Liquid, an asexual snail and a transsexual fish with legs, Rotaro will have his hands full! But beneath the tranquility of the island lies a dangerous secret that could destroy the island, and the answer lies only with Rotaro. With enemies from his past afoot, his friends trying to eat him and a giant poisonous mushroom trying to get him high, what’s a young boy to do?!
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.